Oakland A's Top-Prospects: 30-26

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the next few weeks, every Monday and Wednesday will be "Top Prospect List Day", as we will release our top 50 list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with a review of prospects 30-26.

30. James Shull, SP

Shull looked to be on the verge of a breakout season for High-A Stockton when he went down with an elbow injury during his second start of the year. In that start, Shull had struck out 11 batters in only 6.1 innings. He underwent Tommy John surgery in April and missed the rest of the season. Because the injury was so early in the year, Shull should be back on the field during the first half of the 2007 season.

Shull is a hard-throwing right-hander with a tall, lean build. The Cal-Poly alum throws a mid-90s sinker and a slider that ranks among the best in the A's lower levels. He also has a developing change-up. Shull has great command, having walked only 12 batters in his first 84.2 innings of professional baseball. Assuming that Shull makes a full recovery, he should be a pitcher to watch next season. He will be 23 for most of the 2007 season and if he is healthy and pitching well, the A's won't hesitate to challenge him and his great control at the AA level.

29. Ben Jukich, SP

Jukich was picked by the A's in the 13th round of this year's draft after a record-breaking pitching career at Dakota-Wesleyan. He was only the second pitcher ever from the NAIA conference to be drafted. Jukich began his pro career in short-season Vancouver, where he made three relief appearances and was quickly moved to low-A Kane County. With the Cougars, he made nine relief appearances before being moved into the starting rotation just before the playoffs. He had four regular season starts and was the Cougars' top starter in the post-season. All told, Jukich posted a 2.52 ERA and struck out 50 in 50 professional regular season innings in 2006.

Jukich is a tall, lanky lefty with an easy motion and a plus curveball. Although that may sound a lot like a certain Oakland lefty who is on the free agent market this off-season, Jukich is a very different pitcher from Barry Zito. Unlike Zito, Jukich's curveball is not a finesse pitch. He throws it hard. He also features a low-90s fastball that bores in on hitters, especially left-handers. Jukich struggled at times with his command during his rookie pro season, but he showed an ability to put hitters away that was very impressive for a pitcher coming out of a small collegiate program. Jukich is already 24, so the A's are likely to move him aggressively through the system. Although he spent time in the bullpen this season, Jukich was a big-time innings eater in college and he should be in the starting rotation next year.

28. Dallas Braden, SP

The 2006 season was a bit of a lost year for Braden, who won the A's Organizational Pitcher of the Year award in 2005. He had shoulder trouble at the end of the 2005 campaign while with AA-Midland and tried to rehab it over the off-season. When that didn't work, he had shoulder surgery before the start of the season and missed the first half of the season. During the second half, he spent time at Rookie Ball, High-A Stockton and AA-Midland. He wasn't particularly effective at Stockton or Midland, although the sample size was incredibly small.

When healthy, Braden is an intriguing prospect. He is a crafty lefty with a high-80s fastball, a good change-up, a slider and a screwball, which is his out-pitch. Although he isn't a fireballer, Braden pitches with a "fireball" mentality, attacking the strike zone aggressively and coming inside both to right- and left-handed hitters. He racked up big strikeout numbers at Kane County in 2004 and in Stockton in 2005. He isn't a big guy and with the shoulder problems that he had this season, the A's may decide to move him into the bullpen, where his screwball could make him an excellent lefty set-up man in the way that Jim Mecir used his screwball to be an excellent right-handed set-up man for the A's. Braden will turn 24 late in the 2007 season. While he may begin the year in AA-Midland, he should be a candidate to move up to AAA-Sacramento during the season since he has spent significant time at Midland already in his career.

27. Jason Ray, P

It was a tale of two levels for Ray in 2006. He began the year in low-A Kane County and was a dominant force in the Cougars rotation during the first half of the season. The 22-year old went 6-1 with a 3.02 ERA and 68 strikeouts in only 65.2 innings for the Cougars during the first half of the season. He was named to the Midwest League All-Star team and was promoted to high-A Stockton for the second half of the year. However, he struggled with the Ports, especially in the starting rotation. As a starter, Ray posted a 6.81 ERA in seven starts, walking 20 in 37 innings. He was moved into the bullpen late in the season and pitched much better, posting a 1.96 ERA in 23 innings and holding batters to a .188 average.

Ray is one of the hardest throwers in the A's system, as his fastball sits regularly in the mid-90s. He also has an excellent curveball, which he often uses as a strikeout pitch. Ray was a position player at the start of his collegiate career, so he is still working on getting a feel for pitching. His control has been erratic throughout his career and it hurt him at Stockton. If Ray can fine-tune his control and add a third pitch, he could have a long career as a starter. However, if he stays a two-pitch pitcher with marginal control, he'll likely remain in the bullpen. His arm is major league caliber, so he could be special with some polish.

26. Justin Sellers, SS

Before Matt Sulentic arrived in Kane County late in the season, Sellers was the youngest position player on the Cougars' roster at 20-years old. The Southern California native was the starting shortstop on Opening Day for the Cougars and he held down that important position for Kane County for much of the season. He was inconsistent at the plate, generally alternating his good months with bad months. He finished the year with a .241 batting average and five homers in 411 at-bats. Sellers showed good plate discipline, walking 58 times against 65 strikeouts and he stole 17 bases. He also showed the ability to hit well with runners on-base, hitting .277 with runners in scoring position. However, where Sellers really shined was in the field, where he used his plus-arm and above-average range to dazzle many scouts at short.

Sellers is cut in the mold of the shortstops of the pre-Cal Ripken era. He isn't big (he is listed generously at 5'10'', 160) and he doesn't hit for a lot of power, but he can get on-base, can run the bases well and can field his position. Like many young hitters, Sellers has a tendency at times to get out of his game by swinging for the fences. However, he is at his best when he is aiming for the gaps. He can occasionally turn on the ball and could develop into a low double-digit homerun hitter if he fills out a bit more. The A's have had him experiment with switch-hitting at the Instructional Leagues and he may attempt that next season. He showed enough plate presence and fielding acumen at low-A in 2006 to earn a promotion to high-A Stockton in 2007, where he should follow in the footsteps of Cliff Pennington and Gregorio Petit as slick-fielding shortstops in a Ports uniform.

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